Magnificent Creatures is Gren Bartley’s third solo album and the superb level of quality and creativity from his first two albums is maintained. A talented singer-songwriter, he blends both British and American folk influences and his beautiful finger-picking guitar technique has been much praised.
Tall Wooden Walls opens the album. Bartley’s guitar and lead vocals are accompanied by some beautifully melodic instrumentation (piano, cello, bass, accordion and percussion) and exquisite backing vocals from Julia Disney and Sarah Smout. Angels Fade is another track that showcases the lovely harmony backing vocals of Disney and Smout.
Home Soon is one of the tracks where the Americana influences really come to the fore, both through the evocative lyrics (“The dust soon dulls the shoe shine...”) and the wonderfully atmospheric harmonica-playing, an instrument that’s perhaps underused on British folk albums.
The talented band of musicians Bartley has brought together is worth noting. Joining Bartley are Julia Disney on piano, violin and vocals; Sarah Smout on cello and vocals; Lydia Glanville on percussion; Jim Sutton on bass and Matt Marks on accordion, with Gavin Monaghan on harmonica and Laura Hares on flute.
The range of backing instruments very much complement rather than compete with Bartley’s beautiful guitar-playing. In each track we usually hear Bartley’s guitar provide a simple introduction to the song and then other instruments are gradually brought in, adding layers and depth to the music.
There is some fine song-writing on the album and not a weak track on it. Warm, engaging vocals, fine instrumentation and some lovely backing vocals all add up to make this a memorable album. Certainly, it’s a must-buy for those already taken by Bartley’s first two albums, but also worth a purchase for anyone with an interest in the American-influenced end of the British folk scene.Darren Johnson
Released on Fellside Recordings on 23rd March 2015
1. Tall Wooden Walls
2. Fair Share
3. Angels Fade
6. Of The Girl
7. Home Soon
8. Strange Times
10. This Changes Everything
11. Silent Hotel